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Kieran Hawker is a junior prospector on the frontier of civilized space, just trying to escape from all the things that weigh him down: his father’s death, his brother’s enviable success, and his best friend, Jilly’s, indifference to his long-standing romantic feelings for her.
At just the right time he catches a lucky break, finding a tetrillium-rich rock in an uncharted belt, but everything is not as it seems, and when he goes in for a closer look, he discovers a secret Union facility and space gate. The station is in a security lockdown and the sole apparent occupant, a Union captain, offers Kieran an entire ship if he can disable the lockdown. Kieran realizes that he’s probably dealing with a criminal, rather than an actual captain, but he’s just desperate enough to accept. He flies out to the nearest station and returns with a slicer and some dangerous-looking backup. As he’s making his approach to the station, Kieran hears a garbled cry for help over the comm. He hopes it’s just his imagination.
But it’s not. Half the station’s crew is being held hostage, while the other half appear to be masquerading as Union officers. Kieran and his team disable the lockdown, and to Kieran’s amazement, they are given a ship as promised. As they are leaving the station, they see an entire fleet of Union cruisers pouring out of the newly-reactivated space gate. Kieran is confused. What are so many warships doing on the frontier? The Union isn’t at war.
Kieran sets out to investigate, but along the way strange things start happening to him and his crew. At first there seem to be logical explanations, but before long the answers are not so clear. As time goes by, Kieran realizes the horrible truth:
He wasn’t the only one trying to escape. . . .
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